Rower's story moves students

23:46, Aug 28 2012
Joseph Sullivan
Welcome home: Joseph Sullivan addresses students and teachers at Queen Charlotte College as college principal Tom Parsons looks on

Students and teachers at Queen Charlotte College were moved to tears at an emotional welcome home assembly for Olympic champion Joseph Sullivan on Monday.

The 25-year-old Olympic gold medal winning rower received a moving mihi whakatau, speech of welcome, assembly at Queen Charlotte College along with New Zealand junior rower Mitchell Mackenzie-Mol, who has returned from the world champs in Bulgaria.

More than 500 students and 120 pupils from Waikawa Bay School, Picton School, Linkwater School, Tuamarina School and Spring Creek School watched a video of Sullivan winning his medal in London before giving him a standing ovation.

Queen Charlotte College principal Tom Parsons spoke proudly of Sullivan's time at the school and encouraged Mackenzie-Mol, a current student, to keep following in the Olympian's footsteps.

The room fell dead quiet as a mark of respect after a kapa haka performance concluded Mr Parson's speech and Sullivan composed himself.

Queen Charlotte College deputy principal Alistair Boyce said the silence was incredible as the Olympian took centre stage.

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"Quite a few people were in tears because he was struggling to speak with the effect of the welcome and the kapa haka.

"He was very moved by it before he spoke about what Picton and the school had done for him and the challenges of being a teenager."

Queen Charlotte College administrator Sandi Lock said he had her in tears.

"This was his school and where it all began, I think he was just moved to be given the accolade."

Year 13 student Cheyenne Conroy-Mosdell said Sullivan's message to never give up on your dreams struck a chord with students and teachers alike.

"It was amazing really, he was just so humble and a genuine inspiration."

Fellow year 13 student Jahmaica Huntley said she enjoyed hearing about Sullivan's past and was moved by his passion to succeed.

"When he was in year 8, the head boy told him to give rowing a go so he did. He had to make a lot of tough choices and sacrifices for training but it's all paid off."

She said the students liked that he was "down to Earth" and hoped to pursue a photography course in his free time.

"We didn't get much work done that day because everyone was talking about it afterwards."

Sullivan holds a strong connection to the school. He was taught by many of the teachers still at the school before finishing in 2005 and his father is the school's assistant groundskeeper.

Queen Charlotte College PE teacher Michaela Pluck, who tried on Sullivan's medal, said the rower thanked his family, the school and the wider community for their strong support.

He told the students that he had good friends, teachers and family and it was their positivity that helped him to "say no to a lot of things offered to him when he was younger".

The speech was followed by an open-mike session where every student got the chance to ask him a question and hold his medal.

"The primary school students wanted to know about his training and what it felt like when he crossed the line, he didn't say much about the medal before then, he was very humble."

The Marlborough Express